London, Asharq Al-Awsat—US Sectary of State John Kerry has completed the Middle Eastern part of his current ten-day tour, which saw him meet with political leaders in Turkey, Israel and the Palestinian Territories. He has now traveled to Europe for the G8 Foreign Ministers Meeting, and will end his trip in East Asia.
Talks have focused primarily on the crisis in Syria, relations with Israel, and the threat of the Iranian nuclear program.
The senior US official began his tour in Istanbul, where he arrived early on Sunday morning to meet with his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoğlu, before talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
In a statement summarizing Turkey’s role in the civil war that has gripped its southern neighbor, Kerry said, “I thanked the Foreign Minister for the constant pressure that the Government of Turkey has placed on the Assad regime, which, as we both have said repeatedly, must go.”
In a reference to a meeting that is expected to take place in London, Kerry added, “We look forward to a meeting of the Syria core group in the near term in order to review what we discussed here today, but also to try to coordinate more effectively the approach to the challenges of that particular issue.”
Turkey’s unsteady relationship with Israel dominated the proceedings. Following Barack Obama’s attempts at fostering reconciliation between the two countries, the secretary of state explained that the US “would like to see the relationship get back on track in its full measure.”
The US envoy made concise comments on diplomatic solutions to Iranian attempts at nuclear proliferation, stating that it “is not an interminable process,” adding that “diplomacy is a painful task, and a task for the patient.”
His brief stay in Turkey came to a close when he flew to Israel later that evening. He spent the next two days meeting with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, as well as with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.
Kerry turned his efforts to promoting peace agreements between Israel and Palestine, for which he is preparing a “quiet strategy” to try to solve decades of antagonism and conflict between the two sides, which have not met for direct talks for nearly three years.
On Monday, Kerry performed a joint press conference with veteran Israeli politician Shimon Peres. “Peace is possible. I believe that the gaps between us and our Palestinian neighbors can be bridged, and I speak out of experience…. The whole picture is a picture of progress. Alas, it took a little too much time. But let’s take time for peace,” the Israeli president said.
Kerry added that he has “no illusions about difficulties; we’ve seen them. But we have to believe in the possibilities in order to get there, and you and I believe in them, and I am convinced that there is a road ahead.”
Palestinian National Authority president Mahmoud Abbas was less responsive to the United States’ call for unilateral peace in the region, issuing a number of requirements that must be considered before he would enter into direct dialogue with Israeli officials.
A spokesperson for Abbas said, “President Abbas stressed that the release of the prisoners is a priority that creates an appropriate climate for the possibility of moving the peace process forward.”
The Palestinian leader explained to Kerry that the release of the roughly 4,500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli facilities was a “top priority for creating the right atmosphere for the resumption of negotiations.”
The construction of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem in the West Bank, which led to the breakdown of peace processes in 2010, remains a central issue for the Palestinian Authority. According to the Associated Press, Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, added that the Palestinian leader called for a solution based on the 1967 borders in his Sunday meeting with Kerry.
Turning again to Iran—an issue that was covered with both the president and prime minister of Israel—Kerry offered direct assurances to the United States’ main regional ally that “Iran cannot have and will not have a nuclear weapon.”
Kerry said, “The United States of America has made clear that we stand not just with Israel, but with the entire international community in making it clear that we are serious, we are open to negotiation, but it is not an open-ended, endless negotiation.”
He reminded the audience of Barack Obama’s rhetoric last year, when the president stated, “I don’t bluff.”
“No option is off the table. No option will be taken off the table,” the secretary of state warned.
The press conference was Kerry’s final public appearance in Jerusalem. He then continued on to Tel Aviv before travelling to London.
The United Kingdom’s foreign secretary, William Hague, will host the G8 Foreign Ministers Meeting today, Wednesday, April 10, along with representatives from France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, plus the European Union.
Upon announcing the summit, Hague sad that he was “looking forward to using the UK’s G8 presidency to make progress on the serious challenges facing the international community,” the most important of which would be the ongoing conflict in Syria.
Hague informed reporters that at “the top of our agenda will be the situation in Syria.”
To this end, a delegation of Syrian opposition members was invited to talk with the G8 on Wednesday, before their summit later that day.
John Kerry confirmed his attendance at the meeting on Tuesday in Tel Aviv, saying, “I will be meeting with the Syrian opposition in London, and yes, we will be discussing various means of having an impact on President Assad’s calculations about where the battlefield is going.”
The US diplomatic envoy will remain in the UK until Thursday, April 11, before concluding his tour in several Asian countries. Talks during the last part of his trip will undoubtedly concentrate on the escalating tension emanating from the Korean peninsula and the related US military deployments throughout the region.